As you may have noticed if you've clicked on the link above, I'm now penning a weekly column for the excellent Renegade Economist website. This is a new(ish) initiative by a bunch of young and creative individuals who, in a nutshell, want to change the world.
I'm especially pleased to write for them, because, as you will know if you've been following my scribblings on this site, or over at The Guardian, I, like millions of others worldwide, share that simple aspiration.
My first contribution consists of a ten-part series on the theme of Unearned Wealth: the basis of minority power and privilege, the flip side of which is the appalling poverty and hardship suffered by upwards of a billion people, and the chronic insecurity endured by many of the rest, even in the developed countries.
I hope to demonstrate the link between unearned wealth at the top, and the denial of viable economic opportunities at the bottom. The mechanisms by which the wealthy consolidate their position are an intrinsic part of an economic system that has emerged, and continues to evolve, largely in response to grossly unequal power relations in society.
Historically, those relations were defined by aggressive warfare, colonial conquest, slavery, the subjugation of women and many other injustices which, as we celebrate the achievements of modernity, we are proud to boast have been condemned to the dustbin of history.
Except they haven't, really: there's still no shortage or warring, much of it connected to the desire for greater economic power on the part of the already economically powerful, as it always was. Traditional forms of colonial conquest are now frowned upon, but it's okay if you seek the same outcomes through an economic system which is heavily biased in favour of the rich countries, and, specifically, the richest people within those countries.
Slavery is a thing of the past, we are pleased to console ourselves, except it is estimated that there are up to 27 million slaves in the world today, people who slip through the safety net through which we try to regulate an economic system that eschews all considerations of value except financial ones, and certainly has no time to consider the value of human life. And, while in many countries, women have a better deal than their mother's or grandmother's generations, statistics abound that show the struggle for genuine equality to be far from over.
Doom and gloom it may all be, and while it's important to be realistic, it is still possible to be optimistic. The transformation in levels of moral awareness and understanding over the last century is unprecedented: more people today express a strong preference for a different kind of world, and a firm belief in the possibility of improvement than would even have considered the question a hundred years ago.
We now have to find a way to channel that growing collective aspiration for a better world into concrete, coordinated action. And for me, that begins with spreading the word about the constraints placed on our moral aspirations by an economic system whose motives are diametrically opposed.
I'm well used to accusations of utopian idealism, of people saying it'll never happen. But as I pointed out in my book, The Possibility of Progress, one of the biggest obstacles to creating an inclusive and just economic order is the pessimistic belief that nothing can be done. Of course it can be done, if enough people want it to happen and believe in its possibility.
To this end, over at the Renegade Economist, I shall be examining the various sources of unearned wealth; the way they are connected through our archaic system of money issue; possible fixes to tackle unearned wealth as both a cause and a symptom of the current crisis through changes to the tax, financial and monetary systems; and the prospects for achieving these objectives through the existing institutions of democracy.
The first, introductory, piece in the series, is here, and this week's piece, looking and land rent, is here. A new article will be published each Wednesday, and next week's will examine the pernicious effects of speculative investment.